When we moved to London, we decided we wanted to try to visit places we’d never otherwise visit. I’m pretty sure we’d never have visited Croatia living in California. Our wonderful nanny from the past is married to a Croatian, but that’s about our only connection to the country.
We spent a week in Dubrovnik, Croatia in August. We found a nice 3-room apartment on VRBO. The place had two kitchens (one part of a “studio”) one family room (where Ryan slept in a portable crib) and one bedroom (where Kevin slept in a queen-sized bed). Having everyone in separate rooms worked out great. It also had a patio, which is where we hung up our 85 loads of laundry we did while visiting. (No dryers in all of Croatia – you must hang you panties out the window on clothespins for all the world to see.) Here is a picture of Ryan sitting “in” the refrigerator. He runs a little hot, so maybe this was his way of cooling off.
Our apartment was smack in the middle of Old Town. Our pre-reserved taxi dropped us off just outside the heavy wooden gates and told us to “walk 300 meters and find old lady at clock tower.” We walked 300 meters and the old lady found us. The old lady turned out to be the owner. Or the owner’s mother. I’m not really sure, but anyway, she gave us a detailed description of the old town streets, points of interest, and landmarks to find our way. It was over 90 degrees, Ryan was asleep in the stroller and Kevin was melting in his jeans and long sleeved shirt. Thankfully, the apartment’s two air conditioners were cranked up.
Like typical Amercians, the first thing we did was head for the beach. Banje beach was about a 15 minute (fast) walk from our apartment. We could use the stroller the whole way, except for the final drop off the cliffs which included lots of steps. Most beaches in Croatia are pebble beaches or large rocks. Banje had small pebbles, but certainly no sandcastle-making sand. Kevin and Ryan enjoyed playing in the water, but it was all tough on our feet to walk! I was a total wimp and vowed to buy some sandals or something that I could wear in the water. Kevin spent most of the time leaping from rock to rock on the hot, dry part of the shore. He reminds me of a Praying mantis – his skinny body hopping from one boulder to another.
When Ryan said “done. swimming. home. breakfast.” we knew it was time to head to dinner. We went to Taj Mahal – a Bosnian restaurant that came highly recommended from friends as well as online reviews. The food was delicious, although terribly fattening! Before going to Croatia, Kevin and Ryan both got new pairs of crocs, each with “Croc jewelry” – Kevin got a tarantula and Ryan got a penguin. This dinner was the start of Ryan’s obsessive display of his penguin friend. He stuck his foot in every girl’s face, flirting, yelling, “see??? Penguin???” It went over well most times.
On day 2, we took a taxi to Lapad beach. Lapad was advertised as the most family friend beach with sand in Croatia. Turns out, on land was huge rocks. But under water, there was sand. The boys got into a rhythm pilling up the biggest rocks they could lift and making a “fort.” (Side note: for those families with girls, do they constantly build forts? EVERYTHING in our household has something to do with a fort –making one, hiding in one, crawling behind one, sitting on top of one, toppling one, etc. Who knew forts were all that and a bag of chips!?)
I met this Russian woman with a 3 year old boy at the beach. She chattered away, wanting to practice her English. She had some nifty “swim shoes” with stiff plastic bottoms. She bought them 500 yards from the beach, so I set off for a pair. I bought myself a pair and Ryan too – we were much happier walking in the “sand.” Naturally, when I was hopping around on the rocks pain-free, Kevin and Dave decided they needed a pair too. I do wonder if we’ll ever wear those nifty shoes again.
The shoe lady taught us about taking the bus back to the old city. It took 10 minutes and cost 1/3 what the taxi did. Ryan made many friends. All old ladies in Croatia carry elaborate fans that they actually use. So, on the bus, Ryan had a variety of old ladies fanning him. Apparently, he looked visibly hot.
We discovered a pizza restaurant Oliva in old town, right near our apartment. They were fast, air-conditioned, and had awesome pizza. The boys ate gobs of pizza. So much that we felt compelled to go back, several times that week. It was a known entity – gotta love those when looking for places to eat with kids.
After naps, we headed to the harbour to see the boats and take a look at the Maritime Museum. We got side-tracked with a mother and baby kitten. Ryan was squealing with glee at the cats (he really, really likes animals). Kevin was more subdued and, while observing the mother nursing her baby, said, “Look Daddy, that kitten is kissing the other one.” The American standing near us turned to his wife and said, “Honey, maybe I should kiss you that way?”
Dubrovnik old city is laid out in a relatively organized grid, with the Placa Stradum running down the middle, with a large gate on either end (and a wall around the perimeter of the city). The Placa Stradum is the lowest point in the old city and all the streets running perpendicular head straight up the sides of the mountain. Lots and lots of steps in portions of the city! No cars are allowed inside the city gates (except the garbage trucks before 7am) and the streets are hosed clean every day. Deliveries are pulled to markets and stores by tired sweaty men with huge rolling carts. The place is a well-oiled machine to feed the tourists.
We had dinner at Wanda’s and Dave ordered fish; and when I say fish, I mean the whole fish. Kevin was poking and prodding and asking lots of questions about the fish parts. He asked, “Do you eat the fish eyes?” Dave responded, “I don’t! But I suppose some people do.” Kevin responded, “Can I try them?” And he ate them. Both eyes. I almost gagged on my own dinner. We gave Kevin ice cream for dessert to award his bravery. I hope that wasn’t a bad decision on our part.
On day 3, we decided to “walk the walls.” One of the most historic and fantastic sites in Dubrovnik is the city walls.
Dave and I were overly ambitious in our plan and expected way too much of a 2 year old and a 4 year old on this jaunt. It was melting-point hot, the walls were higher than the boys’ eye level, and, while adults would admire the views, a toddler couldn’t care less. We had moments of peace and pleasure, like when we locked the family in one of the guard stations. And of course, Kevin had to climb on every cannon we passed.
Overall though, it was a tough morning. We were happy to have pizza (again) and air-conditioned naps.
The tops of the high mountains near Dubrovnik are accessible via a cable car. We rode a cable car to the top and roamed around for quite a while. It was 15 degrees cooler at the top and Kevin and Ryan enjoyed playing in the dirt and throwing rocks. Kevin and Dave searched an entire mountain side for piles of cow poop – counting as he went. After they finished, I had to go with Kevin so he could “show me” the piles. Then we bought $6 apple juices and sat in the shade while we admired the view. (below is a view of Lokrum island from the top of the cable car.)
Day 4 brought us to the best beach ever: Lopud Island. It was a bear to get to. We had to walk to the old town exit, take a taxi to a port, get on a boat for 1 hour, then walk over a hot, dry mountain for 30 minutes (or take a golf taxi for a small fee). Ryan was grumpy and tired and cried constantly on the boat, so we decided to do the 30 minute hot walk over the mountain so he could sleep. It worked. He slept, Kevin rode in the bottom of the stroller, and we hit the beach a happy family.
The beach on Lopud Island had honest to goodness sand. And that is important for 2 and 4 year old boys, it turns out. Kevin played in the sand, making castles and digging holes – he was happy as a clam. But even better, this part of the sea was knee deep for 20 meters from the water’s edge. So both boys could go way out in the ocean without much help from mom or dad. They had a fantastic time swimming, “fighting the waves” and “mucking” in the sand. We ate burgers at a little outdoor restaurant/grill where the boys ate just as much ketchup as French fries. We opted for the golf taxi on the way back over the hill. The long journey was worth the hassle. In fact, we loved it so much we went to Lopud again, a couple days later.
We ventured to Lokrum Island on day 5. Lokrum is the closest island to Dubrovnik – just a 15 minute ferry ride. Lokrum is very wooded and beautiful. We stopped at a tiny children’s playground (the only one we had seen in all of Croatia) and the boys enjoyed a few minutes of playing there in the shade. Then we headed out toward the island edge, where there were many tidepools, naked sunbathers, and ragged, sharp rocks. Kevin loved it (climbing the rocks, that is), and leapt from rock to rock “like Spiderman.” Ryan couldn’t keep up (nor did I care for him to), so he and I wandered the island to a nearby swimming hole called the Dead Sea while Dave chased after Kevin. I wasn’t there, but apparently, Kevin and Dave crossed this narrow manmade bridge (with no railings and a 20 foot drop to the sea – see photo). Dave asked Kevin if he was scared as he nonchalantly crossed. Kevin’s response, “of course not.”
Side note on the culture of Dubrovnik: We met an American woman when we first arrived on the island. She had an almost-2 year old daughter and a 4 week-old strapped in a Baby Bjorn. She was originally from Colorado and had moved to Dubrovnik 1.5 years prior for her husband’s hotel business, after living in Scotland, London, and many other places. She said London was her most favourite place of all, and Dubrovnik her least. She wasn’t happy about raising her two kids in Dubrovnik. They visited Lokrum several times per week because it contained the only open grassy field where her daughter could run. She didn’t think the culture offered much for children – not many programs (think Gymboree, library story time, good schools and preschools) were offered. I certainly hadn’t sought out a Gymboree while on our vacation, but I found the culture to be a little lacking. Perhaps it was the fact that the city was still rebuilding from its most recent war in 1992. Things were reconstructed, but mainly for tourists. There are very few museums or interesting cultural centres in the old town. The natives are kind people, but seemed rather downtrodden and tired. On the flip side, the tourists are soaking in the warmth and having a wonderful time. They were all very kind to Kevin and Ryan – smiling and offering a hand.
We rented a car and headed to Montenegro on Day 6. It was nearly a 3 hour drive to Kotor, without too much to stop and see on the way other than beautiful sea views. Kotor is a walled old town, similar to Dubrovnik, but smaller. The most impressive view of Kotor was the wall running straight up the side of the mountain. We didn’t dare take the boys on the wall walk here! But Dave run up to the top in 25 minutes and got his picture taken while I took the boys to get ice cream.
It is a different kind of place, but you could still find a Spiderman board game and a Mickey Mouse bouncy ball at the old town toy store.
We went to the sandy beach in Lopud again for our final day in Dubrovnik, so a good time was had by all. We decided to “risk it” and try a very fancy restaurant for our last dinner. Restaurant Dubrovnik, one of the best rated restaurants in town was next door to our apartment. It was an “outdoor” place with a huge white tent covering. We asked ahead of time if we could bring two lively boys and they thought if we came at opening time we should be safe. So we all arrived at 6pm with our hair combed! The restaurant was empty for nearly an hour, so the boys could roam around the check out the fancy water features and plants and rocks on the restaurant’s perimeter. We had fancy food – veal wrapped with bacon, lamb chops, pancakes, fancy olives, roasted vegetables, and parma ham (aka prosciutto). Probably took the easy way out, but we brought the iPad for Ryan and he quietly and calmly watched Handy Many and Dora the Explorer after he ate his meal.
We enjoyed our stay in Croatia and learned a few new things about expectations and traveling with the boys that will help us on future trips. We also enjoyed the warmth and sunshine, but honestly, we were refreshed coming home to grey and rainy London!